Culture Jordan

The cultural differences between Europe and Jordan are so big that you could write a book about them. The following hints will help you avoid the biggest misunderstandings.

Hospitality: This is a cornerstone of Arabic life. It is normal for Jordanian families (especially the Bedouin) to welcome foreigners into their houses. This tradition was born out of the hardship of desert life; scarce food, water and shelter mean that most desert travellers would not survive the ordeal. Wherever you are in Syria or Jordan, you will be invited many times to local’s houses for a cup of tea or to eat.

Haggling: Haggling is the normal way to buy things at the souq (market) or in souvenir shops. The souqs in Jordan, particularly in Amman, are ideal places to buy nice items, such as cloths, shawls, jewellery, woodwork, rugs, traditional clothing and herbs. If you get in a taxi, which does not have a meter or has one that does not work, agree a price with the driver before you travel.

Gestures: Jordanians use many gestures during their conversations, which in many cases differ strongly from ours. Examples of this are that people say ‘no’ by raising their eyebrows and tilting their head back slightly, sometimes accompanied by a ‘tsk-tsk’ sound. You can say a polite ‘no, thank you’ by placing your right hand on your heart. If you do not want any more tea or coffee, lay your hand over your cup and say ‘shukran’ (thank you). Bedouin folk rotate their cup a couple of times to indicate the same thing. If somebody does not understand something, he will shake his head (like our ‘no’). Men who ask for directions should not be surprised if he is grabbed by the arm, as he will then be led to his destination in this manner. It is normal for men to walk hand in hand with each other here, although think twice if you are female and a local man wishes to walk with you in such a way! Here, the left hand is used to clean one’s backside after visiting the toilet, and is seen as unclean for this reason. Therefore, if you wish to gesture or touch something, use your right hand.

Visual art in the Arabic world usually refers to architecture, mainly due to the fact that Islam forbids depiction of living creatures. Spectacular monuments and excavations are common in Jordan. The ruins of the city of Petra in Jordan are an absolute highlight, dating back to the time of the Nabataeans.

Public baths
A visit to a Hammam (public bath) is a special experience. In Jordan, visiting a public bath is a normal part of everyday custom. The baths have fixed opening hours, and there are separate times and rooms for women to visit. You must undress a couple of hours before going in. The Arabs take their bathing customs from the Romans. In the hammam there are warm baths, hot baths and saunas. There are no cold baths. You scoop up a ladleful of water out of one of the buckets and pour it over your body. Massages cost extra, but are extremely thorough. Afterwards you can relax and enjoy a cup of tea in the relaxation room. Men must make sure they keep their bottom halves clothed, although women are less prudish amongst themselves. Towels are handed out in the baths.

In general
Always remember that you are a guest in a country where other conventions prevail. They are not behaving strangely, you are!

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